JAUNTS : VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : Christmas Trees Branch Into Whimsy : The Reagan library open house will feature the twinkling holiday symbols along with carolers, dancers and storytelling.


What do Mickey Mouse and King Tut have in common? They both rest atop decorated Christmas trees at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

The library's auditorium is filled with 30 trees, most reflecting the holiday traditions of countries visited by Reagan during his White House years. But some are pure whimsy, like the one decked with cartoon characters, or another loaded with western knickknacks, a tribute to Reagan's passion for horses.

You can wander among this twinkling forest until Jan. 7, but if you visit the library Sunday, you can take in the Christmas open house. Starting at 11 a.m., the entertainment lineup includes carolers, dancers, storytelling, and, of course, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The auditorium looks a little like a winter wonderland. The trees--actually 7 1/2-foot artificial Douglas firs--rest on a snowy carpet. In the center, the figure of Old St. Nick is surrounded by elves busying themselves with presents. Christmas carols fill the air.

As you browse, you can read how Christmas is celebrated around the world. In Belgium, children stuff their shoes with hay and carrots for St. Nick's white horse. In China, only a scant 1% of the population is Christian but they celebrate with a bang--they shoot off fireworks and decorate their homes with colorful paper lanterns. In Czechoslovakia, a Christmas Eve dinner favorite is carp.

You'll pick up some Christmas trivia: Theodore Roosevelt banned Christmas trees at the White House until a fellow conservationist convinced him they wouldn't become extinct.

As for the trees, the Lithuanian tree is the most remarkable. Decorated by a handful of local women from the Lithuanian American community, it's covered with the traditional lacy white ornaments made from straws.

"It's absolutely phenomenal," said Eileen Kemp, who coordinated the various groups that decorated the trees. "Most people don't realize they're handmade--they look too good."

Working since July, the women bent, twisted and twirled the straws into all kinds of shapes held in place by string. It took 76 hours to do 100 of them, Kemp said.

The ornaments on other trees clearly represent each country--skates and Mounties for Canada, fans and origami for Japan, the treetop dragon for China.

The Christmas trees are an annual event at the Reagan library, but this year's display has 10 new trees and some other changes. The Russian tree was overhauled to give it more of an Old World flavor. The silk and tassled ornaments are exquisite.

One of the trees is decorated with ornaments--many of them handmade--that people have sent the Reagans. There's a heart-shaped pillow with Reagan's initials and a personalized stocking for the former president.

Nancy Reagan has seen the tree exhibit, titled "Christmas Around the World."

"She said it reminded her of the East Room at the White House," Kemp said. "She said she loved it--that's all I wanted to hear."


* WHAT: Christmas tree exhibit.

* WHERE: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, 40 Presidential Drive, near Simi Valley.

* WHEN: Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas open house, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and free for children 15 and under.

* CALL: 522-8444.

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